Four quick first aid tips for cuts -- that usually aren't taught in any First Aid class!

First Aid Tips for the Galley

Cuts and burns are a fact of life in the galley.  And while I don’t have any great tips when it comes to burns other than “be careful,” I have learned a few things about dealing with cuts.  I’m not a doctor, nor do I have any super-advanced first aid training.  Obviously, if a medical professional tells you something else, do what they say — this is just my own experience.  And this is no substitute for getting some First Aid training and having a proper kit . . .

Avoiding Infections

In the typical heat and humidity aboard a boat, cuts and scrapes are much more likely to get infected.  Doubly so if you go for a swim (I know that water looks pure — I’ve learned the hard way that if you’re in the typical anchorage, it’s not).

The easiest way to avoid infections is to keep a tube of triple antibiotic ointment right next to the sink, in the head.  Leave it right out where it’s an eyesore.  And then, every time you wash your hands, dab a bit on any cuts and scrapes you have (hands, legs, feet, wherever).  Once we started doing this, our cuts and scrapes just never got infected.

For cuts or scrapes that look like they might be getting infected, it’s a good idea to put some triple antibiotic ointment on a Band-Aid and put it over the area.  The Band-Aid will keep the ointment in contact with the injury as well as keeping more dirt out of it.

A Quick Bandage

Sometimes, something’s happening and you just don’t have the luxury of going to the First Aid box and really taking care of things as you should.  Right inside the nav desk, we always kept a roll of duct tape.  Another one in the dinghy.  More than once, we just pulled off a piece and stuck it over a cut until we could properly deal with it.  I know, medical professionals are going to scream.

Keeping Band-Aids On

Another cruiser — a doctor — taught us about Tincture of Benzoin.  Dab it on your skin first, and adhesive bandages stick much better, even if you’re sweating, washing dishes, or whatever.  I wrote a full article about this and where to buy it (it can be hard to find) — read it here.

Bad Cuts

Thinking that you really need butterfly bandages or Steri-Strips, but you don’t have any?  You can make your own — I learned how to in Girl Scouts, back before you could buy such things.

1.  Cut a piece of tape the size that you want the finished bandage to be.  First aid tape is the obvious choice, but you can use anything — I’ve used duct tape, electrical tape and even masking tape.  You can also use a Band-Aid.

2.  Fold the tape in half cross-wise, sticky side out.  On the folded end, cut a triangle off each side, leaving a pointed end that is just barely joined to the other half by a section about 1/16″ inch wide.

3.  Unfold the tape and twist the ends two complete times, so that there is a thin twisted section in the middle.  You now have your butterfly bandage — admittedly not perfectly sanitary, but if it’s the only alternative . . .

4.  Put one half on the skin on one side of the cut, so that the thin twisted section is right over the cut.  Pull gently as you put the other side down on the other side of the cut, holding the two edges together.

5.  You’ll probably have to make more than one butterfly — you want them about 1/4″ to 3/8″ apart if possible.

6.  Once you get the butterflies in place (you did use Tincture of Benzoin under them so they’ll stay on, didn’t you?), cover with a traditional bandage with a dab of triple antibiotic on it.

Another option is to use SuperGlue — it’s similar to the surgical glue used in many operations.  But — you can’t use the type that says it’s formulated not to stick to skin (yeah, you want it to stick the skin together) AND you don’t want to get your fingers stuck to the wound.  Add in the fact that 90% of the time when we get a little tube of SuperGlue out, it’s already hard and I’m thinking that DIY butterflies are looking pretty good.  Seriously, I’ve made my own butterflies quite a few times and they’ve worked just as well as the commerical ones — I’ve never had to have stitches, outside of surgery.

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  • Molly Stokes on Facebook
    Posted at 12 June 2013 Reply

    My tip is: when working around water with a cut finger, cut off the finger of a rubber glove and put over it, taping around base with duct tape. OR use a condom. Important to keep those cuts dry.

  • The Boat Galley on Facebook
    Posted at 12 June 2013 Reply

    Great idea — yes, we bought condoms just for that purpose!

  • Peggy bowers
    Posted at 30 March 2014 Reply

    We find many uses for the tops of crew socks. They help hold bandages on elbows and knees. Just used one on a sprained ankle. Put the sock top over the ankle then wrapped it with duct tape. Seems we always have socks with worn heels, so a steady supply of sock tops for our first aid kits.

  • Lupari Sue
    Posted at 17 April 2015 Reply

    Good simple advice as usual Carolyn, thanks.

  • Tony
    Posted at 18 April 2015 Reply

    Happy to see the super glue mention, that’s what it was invented for!! Also, most medical types would say that putting duct tape on a cut would be keeping it closed, and clean; which is good!

    Great first aid tips, keep up the good work Carolyn!

  • Lisa Gravitte
    Posted at 03 June 2016 Reply

    I agree that the superglue will work, but if this has ANY chance of infection you will be sealing the bad guys in. Butterfly bandages nearly always will suffice.

  • Michael Kemp
    Posted at 03 June 2016 Reply

    Brendan Dean Kemp some tips

  • Christine Springfield
    Posted at 03 June 2016 Reply

    As a paramedic, I applaud your inventiveness. If duct tape works or other “Mcgyver” solutions resolve the issue, it’s all good. I’ve splinted broken bones with college term papers or sticks and duct tape and bandaged with bandannas and even a roll of toilet paper. Yes, the toilet paper roll was used on duty… It was close and they were bleeding badly. So, there’s your endorsement!

  • Jennifer Spires
    Posted at 03 June 2016 Reply

    The frequent use of antibiotic ointment may contribute to the development of superbugs, germs that are immune to antibiotics. Also, it may contribute to the development of allergies to antibiotics. By using Triple Antibiotic, you risk developing allergies to all three of those antibiotics. This is the voice of experience, after burning my hands in a kitchen accident, I discovered I’m allergic to most topical antibiotics.

  • Becky
    Posted at 03 June 2016 Reply

    I bought “finger cots” at a good drug store once to keep a nasty finger cut dry yet still keep washing. They come in assorted sizes. Yes, they can be frustrating to roll on, but they work.

  • Christine Springfield
    Posted at 03 June 2016 Reply

    You can also make your own finger cot by cutting off the finger of a glove.

  • Taylor Bishop
    Posted at 13 September 2017 Reply

    I just wanted to thank you for going over these first aid tips! I really appreciate that you mentioned how to take care of some bad cuts, and how to make butterfly bandages. From the sound of it, it could be really useful to practice this beforehand so that you are prepared in the future if the situation every arises.

  • Catherine Mary Cornish
    Posted at 14 October 2017 Reply

    I came back to your website today. Over the last decade or so I check in with you on a variety of how to’s or ideas for boat life. Today it is getting the dog to poop on the boat – we had to go on shore in the hurricane to take her – wasn’t ideal, lol. Then next on my list today is sorting out our medical kit – which we seem to have loads of stuff for and I am just not sure we need it all or if the meds are even still within exp. date etc. So, I moseyed over to your fb page and low and behold this is your post today! It’s like you read my mind! Anyway, I just wanted to take a moment to thankyou for all the advice and tips I have gleaned from you over the years and say just how very much it is appreciated!

  • Catherine Mary Cornish
    Posted at 14 October 2017 Reply

    Our kit needs sorting – just found your other post about the 3 boxes, love it!

  • Catherine Mary Cornish
    Posted at 14 October 2017 Reply

    My sorted kit!!! Thank you! We had so much stuff my hubby was ready to throw it away and just buy a new kit but we persevered, using your lists on your website, and now….there is order! We can easily find what we need with the ziploc system.

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